Marriage Seminar for Inmates Proves Life-Changing for All Involved

Date Posted: 8/13/2015

Prison ministry volunteers hosted events at First UMC Huntsville, sharing much more than hospitality while keeping families strong in the midst of challenging circumstances.

July marriage seminar event volunteers Greg and wife Melissa have recently gone ‘back to the future.’ Having been blessed by this teaching during their tumultuous times, this couple is determined to pay it forward. “The reason my wife and I volunteer in the Restorative Justice Marriage Ministry is simple,” says former inmate Greg Alvis. “We went through the same experience. In fact, we attended marriage seminars while Rev. Mark Pickett was the Chaplain at the Coffield unit near Palestine, Tx. That was a very difficult chapter in our life together and the seminars we attended provided three important things: 1) an emotionally safe place to be husband and wife, 2) a shared experience with other couples going through identical circumstances, and 3) instruction on the covenant of marriage.”

Adds Greg, “I am sure that our attendance at marriage seminars back then is the foremost reason we are celebrating 27 years of marriage this November. To be able to now give back after receiving so freely during those years is a blessing beyond words. The July 2015 seminar weekend was a defining moment in many of these current couple’s lives and marriage. The hospitality First UMC, Huntsville provided will always be a spiritual marker in each of their lives.”

The volunteer experience was moving for Melissa Alvis as well, taking her back in time, in some ways. “My husband served 22 years in prison, and I stood beside him in support the entire time,” she shares. “Through our attendance in marriage seminars during that time, we learned the importance of life skills such as, communication, forgiveness, handling conflict in healthy ways and growing in our relationship with God and with another as husband and wife. We were able to grow together while living apart.  I like to say that we essentially learned how to thrive in our circumstances. However, this may not have happened had it not been for the men and women who surrounded us with belief and love for us.”

Melissa says, “I volunteer because God changed both my husband’s and my life through His Grace, His patience and His Word.  He taught us how to live, how to forgive and how to persevere. I want to share what He has done for us and to help other couples build strong, healthy lives and marriages for themselves.”

According to former prison Chaplain Rev. Mark Pickett, now on staff at First UMC, Huntsville and a leader in the Texas Conference Restorative Justice ministry, church members help create a loving environment for the Alvis’ and other volunteers receiving training, and the wives of inmates over the seminar weekend.  

“It was our pleasure to help host Johnny and Betty Moffitt, who have been going into prisons for over 20 years with prison crusades and marriage seminars through their World Wide Voice in the Wilderness (WVIW) ministry,” notes Mark. FUMC Huntsville provided space and food on Friday morning and both evenings, when the ministry team reviewed the events of the day. “During the weekend, five of the wives professed faith in Christ for the first time while several others re-dedicated their life to trusting God. And God is so good, how amazing it was to learn that one of the volunteer couples had attended a seminar at the Coffield Unit when I had been chaplain there several decades ago.”

Volunteer Patti Suhre, named “WVIW 2014 Prisonary of the Year,” also volunteers from her heart. Shares Patti, “I love prison ministry -- maybe because I was a little rebellious early in life, but I was given many second chances during my 43 years. My husband is incarcerated and the love given to us by WVIW, the Moffitts, the volunteers and local churches gave me a hunger to go and do what they do. I wanted other wives to have that feeling that their husbands still mattered and they could be proud of their marriage like couples in the free world. I really love going into these prisons and seeing so many eyes with broken souls open by Sunday to the brightness from the love and power of the Holy Spirit. It is amazing to see what God can do in just three days. I love that I get to see it and share the good news!”

Adds Greg, “Thank you again for providing the wives a place to come and feel safe, loved on and edified during last weekend’s seminar. I cannot begin to tell you how important that was. One of the consistent themes I heard from the couples throughout the weekend was how amazed they were at all the gifts bestowed upon them by strangers; this provided many opportunities to share how bountiful God’s love for them truly is.” Participants instantly related to Melissa and Greg’s experiences. Notes Melissa, “One wife told me she could make it, since I did. I know it is through healing and growth that we become whole, healthy and proactive individuals. We learn and desire to give back, which in turn creates a community.  I believe this is what God wants for us while here on earth.”

Here is just one of the many wonderful comments we received from the wives:
"Thank you so much for an amazing weekend! This ministry has truly impacted my walk with Christ and helped me understand what our men go through. Walking those long corridors was an awesome eye opener. Thank you for all that you do and your faithfulness to your calling. I hope to share my experience and encourage others to take that step of faith when a seminar is available at their unit. One thing I appreciated was that this ministry is aligned with Gods plan and to know that you are connected to a church that is well known. Pastor Morris's ministry has also blessed our congregation through his books and teachings. God bless you, it was such a pleasure to meet you, your husband and the wonderful volunteers."